They Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum JohnsonThey Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson

They Left Us Everything: A Memoir

byPlum Johnson

Paperback | March 18, 2014

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Winner of the 2015 RBC Taylor Prize
Winner of the 2016 Forest of Reading® Evergreen Award™ 

After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father,  and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year-old mother—author Plum Johnson  and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when  their mother, the surviving parent, dies. Now they must empty and sell the beloved  family home, which hasn’t been de-cluttered in more than half a century. Twenty-three  rooms bulge with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum remembers her loving  but difficult parents who could not have been more different: the British father, a  handsome, disciplined patriarch who nonetheless could not control his opinionated,  extroverted Southern-belle wife who loved tennis and gin gimlets. The task consumes  her, becoming more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger  memories of her eccentric family growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake  Ontario in the 1950s and 60s. But unearthing new facts about her parents helps her  reconcile those relationships with a more accepting perspective about who they were  and what they valued.


They Left Us Everything is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving  family history to make sense of the past and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the  future.

Plum Johnson is an award-winning author, artist and entrepreneur living in Toronto. She was the founder of KidsCanada Publishing Corp., publisher of KidsToronto, and co-founder of Help’s Here! resource magazine for seniors and caregivers.
Title:They Left Us Everything: A MemoirFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:288 pages, 8.3 × 5.4 × 0.7 inShipping dimensions:8.3 × 5.4 × 0.7 inPublished:March 18, 2014Publisher:Penguin CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143189050

ISBN - 13:9780143189053


Rated 5 out of 5 by from A touching story for those 50 + I really enjoyed this book. The writing is very good, and the author is honest without sensationalism. I could relate to much of her experiences, and I love how she learns to appreciate her parents despite their flaws. Touching with some comical moments. If you live in Southern Ontario, you will love it even more, as it is set on Lake Ontario in Oakville. I have highly recommended it to friends who have aging parents.
Date published: 2018-06-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A memorable memoir This was a great read. Lots of laughs.
Date published: 2017-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Thoughtful, thought-provoking. I loved the Canadian-ness of it all, the eldest daughter sibling relationships, and fascinating detail about all the stuff they collected, treasured, tossed and fought over. Uplifting more than sad. Understanding a family, via post-mortem.
Date published: 2017-07-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from relatable story This book contains a very relateable story, which is poignant and touching, as it deals with aging parents, loss and trying to move on with life after loss. #plumreview
Date published: 2016-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from LOVED THIS BOOK As with other reviews, parts of this could be my life as well, having to clean out our house of 50 years or so. So many memories, laughs, things we wish we could have changed, family dynamics etc. And being around the same age group, remembering the same things as Plum, family, friends, watching parents die, the loyalty of pets - all so familiar. She definitely brings you right into the family memories - and when I got to the pictures in the book I was so delighted, I felt l already knew the family members and to see their faces !! She knew when it was time to leave the house and turn it over to the next family. Beautiful read, would definitely recommend this book.
Date published: 2015-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A GREAT Book I really enjoyed this book....a great read.....reminded me so much of things that happened in my own life....Plum did a good job in putting this together....I would recommend this book
Date published: 2015-05-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Easy to relate to This book was Plum's story but could be my story too. It was easy to related to her pains and joys, the family dynamics, strengths and struggles. You could both feel and see this story easily. Worth the read.
Date published: 2015-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from They Left Us Everything One of the most enjoyable books I have read this year!
Date published: 2015-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A memorable memoir An extraordinary and forthright tale about family, a real but somewhat eccentric group, that unravels through the author's encounter with "everything" left in a house they had inhabited for 50+ years. It is funny, sad, reflective, sometimes bizarre, and thoroughly entertaining. I could not put it down.
Date published: 2014-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 'They Left Us Everything' left me with Something This is a deeply moving memoir about a daughter who expecting a 6-week stay in her family home to put things in order after her mother passes, ends up on a life-changing two year journey where she peels away the layers of her family's life - one lesson at a time. I laughed and cried, feeling the roller coaster ride of emotions she bravely explores, laying herself bare and vulnerable to the reader. Her evolution from an almost judgemental daughter (can't we all be that!) to a child who learns about her parents' lives through letters, photographs, stories, and is able to weave their humanity into them so she herself can see it, is a journey every adult should take. She reminds us that a parent is a human being with their own story, their own challenges. Her characters - the real people in her life, come alive with her skilled emotive and humourous writing. I loved this memoir. Perhaps it reminds me of my own family, many stories are similar, as is the era, but for many reasons I was taken into the old home, room by room, memory by memory. I did not want to walk out the gate.
Date published: 2014-04-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I got something, just a little There is something about "They Left Us Everything" that is both endearing and disconnected. Plum Johnson comes from a family with a fascinating history - her ancestors and father are all sorts of historic figures, her family has travelled across lands and grew up with various cultures (one being of mine on the Malay archipelago) - and a family home that has been a part of Johnson's and her siblings' lives. "I realize that Mum was the house, and all this time she's been speaking to me," and that is the tone the book tries to take. After the passing of her mother, Johnson moves into their family home again and begins the process of clearing it out, and this begins a reliving and rediscovery journey for her. Because of this, I expected a deeper emotional connection to what Johnson wanted to share, yet somehow all I got was a dry presentation of every action that was done with the house and possessions. There are moments where she starts to open up a little more with her feelings, and I think, here we go, but it quickly gets glosses over. I love reading about family lineages and Plum Johnson has a great one to share. She does write in an honest voice, and I do think "They Left Us Everything" is a very personal book for her, but this memoir escapes me and has left me feeling underwhelmed.
Date published: 2014-04-01

Bookclub Guide

1. Why is the title ironic?2. What are the major themes in the book? Which theme do you find the most compelling? Explain.3. One of the reviewers called the house “a character in its own right.” Do you agree? How does the setting and the house affect the story? Have you ever had a similar attachment to a house you lived in?4. The author refers to having an Other Mother growing up. Did you have a similar experience with an Other Parent? How does a relationship with an Other Parent differ from that of a biological parent?5. What were the most memorable scenes for you? Were there scenes in the book that upset you? If so, why?6. What were the many contradictions between the mother and the father? To what degree was the behaviour of this couple a product of their time? Were they suitable marriage partners? Why or why not?7. What do you think about the father’s ideas of child rearing? How are they different from today’s parenting approach?8. How would you describe the author’s feelings towards her mother? Can you relate to those feelings? Explain.9. Do you think parents should destroy their personal diaries or save them for their children to read in the future?10. How does the relationship between a parent and child change as each grows older? What powers can elderly parents have over their children?11. What parallels does the author draw between her relationship with her mother and her relationship with her youngest daughter? Why do you think the mother–daughter relationship is often complicated?12. The author says of her mother: “I had more than sixty years to ask questions, but the questions didn’t form until after she’d gone. Now there are questions I didn’t even know I had.” Why do you think questions come to us later—after it’s too late? What sorts of questions do you think you would ask if you knew this was your last opportunity to do so?13. As lifespans get longer, more and more people are torn between taking care of elderly relatives and taking care of their own immediate families. Describe some of the common challenges faced by this family in the story as well as those that were unique to them. Has society done a good job of keeping up with the needs of modern families? Why or why not?14. Women are often expected to be the caregivers in a family. Do you think that being the only daughter in this family was a factor that contributed to the author’s role in this story? Why or why not?15. Describe the relationships among the siblings. Why do siblings often experience life within a family so differently? How would you describe your relationship with your siblings?16. How would you describe the tone of the book? Does the tone work for the particular story the author is telling?17. How did the book affect you? Did reading it help you to understand your own family better?

Editorial Reviews

Praise for They Left Us Everything“[They Left Us Everything] is the kind of slim, unassuming memoir that hits you deep in the gut . . . Amid the scraps of paper left in jacket pockets, family photos and pieces of furniture, part of the “everything” our parents leave us with are our memories of them, good and bad.  Perhaps figuring out what to do with them is as close to a manual for grief as we get.”—National Post“Johnson writes with clarity, wit and a powerful descriptive voice that makes the rambling family home she moves back into for 16 weeks a character in itself.”—NOW Toronto“A fascinating and delightful story – a satisfying and thought-provoking book.”—The Parry Sound North Star“Each word of They Left Us Everything is heartfelt and moving. We are privy to Johnson’s emotional journey to the point that it feels like she is part of our own family. Her story lingers inside, touching the soul.”—“At times heartbreaking and at others hysterically funny . . . the book’s descriptive prose brings [the] places and people to life and poignantly conveys the quasi-spiritual journey that helps Johnson overcome her grief.”—Publishers Weekly“[Johnson] takes you along on a journey that is emotional, humorous, and candid.”—Newstalk 1010